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Tag: Brian Wood

Catching Up with the X-Men, Part 1

All-New X-Men #1

The most well-read post I ever put on this blog was one that went up Feb. 23, 2012, in which I talked about breaking my 26-year weekly superhero comic-book habit.

More than a year later, I find myself drawn back to superhero comics, though not as much as I have been. I’ll start by saying I’m just not into DC’s The New 52. I’m sure there are some good books in the line, but nothing I’ve seen inspires me to invest the time and money required.

Pretty much the only thing that can get me to plunk down my coins and invest my time are my two favorite Marvel franchises: X-Men and Avengers. For me, X-Men was always the best idea Marvel had. I may have said this before, but it bears repeating: X-Men is at heart a science-fiction concept dressed up with superhero conventions. As such, it has a depth to it that straighter takes on the superhero genre generally lack. It certainly has helped it maintain a hold on my imagination and has the ability to suck me back in, repeatedly, throughout my life.

I stopped reading X-Men comics twice before. The first was in 1995, when the Age of Apocalypse came along at a time when my discontent with the X-Men titles in those post-Chris Claremont years was at a high. Like The New 52, it made a great jumping off point. It lasted a little more than a year before I was sucked back in around The Uncanny X-Men #332. And it didn’t last long — I was gone again by the time the Onslaught crossover arrived only a few issues later. This second absence lasted, again, about a year or so before I came back on board. The second return was aided by my move to California in 1996 and the discovery of numerous cheap back-issue sources that made it easy and fun to fill in the gaps in all the various series.

So it was again that, after the horrid event called Schism and the inevitable re-launch of The Uncanny X-Men after 544 issues, that it was again time to say good-bye. And, again, it held for a little more than a year before access to cheap back issues overcame my resistance and pulled me right back in.

The break has, overall, been good for me and I come back to the X-Men family of books with fresh eyes and a new appreciation for how much they’ve managed to improve in my absence. While they are in no way great works of art or classics of the genre or medium, the X-Men books have become a rather enjoyable line of comics. More than at any time in recent memory, the various books have — for the most part — a reason to exist, some kind of point to them, and are nicely executed in both script and, especially, art.

I have to give kudos to Marvel for double shipping series like All-New X-Men and Wolverine and the X-Men. At first, I thought that would just be too much, but it turns out to make those series even more engaging because there’s a decent new episode coming out pretty much every week. I have heard some store owners complain how difficult it can be for them to handle orders on those titles, but overall they seem to sell well enough that no one’s nose is too far out of place.

Having recently read through pretty much all the Marvel Now! issues of nine different X-Men series, I’ll run though them all very quickly. This will take more than one post and spoiler warnings are in full effect for those who haven’t read these books.

All-New X-Men #11

All-New X-Men is the book I was fearing the most. Why? One word: Bendis. As Marvel’s go-to writer, Brian Michael Bendis has had a pretty amazing run overall at Marvel, though I found his work on the various Avengers titles became too, well, cutesy, for lack of a better word. I’m not a big fan of the kind of rambling, pop-culture filled dialog that Bendis likes to fill entire issues with when he can. I thought that stuff worked great when Bendis did his own comics, like Goldfish, Jinx or Fortune and Glory. But he’s surprised me here with more action-oriented stories and a good focus on character.

The premise of the book is, however, pretty silly. It starts with Beast thinking he’s dying (he really just evolving again) and picking up on something Iceman says about how the young Scott Summers would never become the monster that the current Cyclops is. So he goes back in time and brings the original, teen-age X-Men into the present. What’s amazing is that this is nowhere as bad as it sounds, and is actually pretty good. The jokes about anachronisms are kept to a minimum, and the younger versions all come off as very interesting takes on the characters, especially Jean Grey. That last part is even more astounding given how long it’s been since the ever-morphing Jean has been interesting.

What really helps this book is the art, most of it by Bendis’ former Ultimate Spider-Man collaborator Stuart Immonen with inks from Wade von Grawbadger. The other artist in the rotation, David Marquez, is up to the task of keeping the book moving along at a quick pace and maintaining the slick look Immonen and von Grawbadger have established.

So far, the original team has met its older versions (the ones that are still alive — sorry, Jean!), the Avengers, as well as enemies like Mystique, who don’t always appear as bad at first to the young, time-displaced mutants. After 11 issues, I’m not sure exactly where this title is going or what its long-term prospects are because it seems clear the teenage X-Men have to return to the past at some point or else completely change the timeline and invalidate years of X-Men stories (not a good idea; see the Spider-Clone saga for reference).

Uncanny X-Men (Vol. 3) #1

The flip side comes in the relaunched Uncanny X-Men, known as Vol. 3. This book follows Cyclops’ team and features some interesting character dynamics, especially with Magneto. The art by Chris Bachalo, with help from Frazier Irving, is worth the price of admission all by itself. The stories are moving along slowly, but there is a nice counter point to this comic — it complements All-New X-Men without making either series redundant.

X-Men: Legacy (Vol. 2) #1

X-Men: Legacy is the one book I decidedly did not like after reading the first four issues. This series is about David Haller, a.k.a. Legion, the son of Charles Xavier whose mind is full of split personalities, each with its own power. While I like the craziness the cover designs promise, this is just not a character I’ve ever found interesting and an entire series about him battling with his inner demons — and is largely disconnected from other X-Men series — just doesn’t cut it for me.

X-Men (Vol. 4) #1

The simply titled X-Men (is this Vol. 3 or Vol. 4? I can’t remember!) from writer Brian Wood and artists Olivier Coipel and Mark Morales got a solid launch from the apparent novelty of it being a team of all-female mutants. Of course, Wood has his own fans and they bring some high expectations to this title, most of which he easily meets. The debut issue focuses on Jubilee, apparently no longer a vampire. She’s on the run with a little baby and turns to the X-Men for help. She gets it from Storm, Kitty, Psylocke, Rogue and Rachel Grey. That’s a good lineup for an X-Men book, no matter the gender politics, but that’s been the focus of a lot of the publicity surrounding this book’s launch. I happen to like all those characters (Jubilee can be a bit annoying, but she’s better by far than, say, Marrow), and it’s a solid book. I think Storm benefits the most from this title, being a character who really dominated the series back in Claremont’s days and has since struggled to maintain her popularity. I love the return to the old 1980s mohawk look, and the overall take on her is quite promising. Rogue, Kitty and Psylocke all have received plenty of attention in recent years, but I have to say I do like the new costume for Psylocke. Rachel has been a confusing character almost from the start, but I’d like to see what Wood can do with her.

Next: We’ll get into the X-Force and Wolverine titles.

Wood’s eco-thriller is Massive-ly entertaining

The Massive #1-11 (Dark Horse Comics, $3.50 each) is a highly engrossing series that’s probably the best entry in the relatively new (to comics, anyway) sub-genre of eco-thrillers. Written by Brian Wood with art on various issues by Kristian Donaldson, Garry Brown, Gary Erskine and Declan Shalvey, The Massive takes place after a yearlong series of ecological disasters collectively known as The Crash has radically changed the Earth’s surface. Rising oceans have put major cities under water while other disasters have knocked out power, technology and communications with large portions of the world.

In this bleak setting is Callum Israel, leader of a pacifist, direct-action marine conservation organization called The Ninth Wave. Based on a converted warship known as the Kapital, Israel and his international crew are both struggling to survive and to continue their mission of conserving the world’s oceans as best they can. The series starts with an over-arching mystery, as the Kapital’s sister ship, The Massive, has gone missing for months. Israel believes The Massive is still out there, somewhere, and the search for the ship is ongoing. In between that, there are pirates, utopian communities and a constant need to resupply the ship’s food, water and fuel stores. 
This series benefits immensely from Wood’s research and his broad, international view. The characters have complex but believable backgrounds and hail from all over the world. They include first mate Lars, the can-do Kenyan Mary (also Israel’s lover), and Mag, a former colleague of Israel’s from his days with a Blackwater-style private security (a.k.a. Mercenary) group. No one is quite what they seem and their stories and viewpoints are revealed naturally through the series, offering a welcome relief from extensive contrived exposition. 
The series is so far broken down into three-issue arcs, though the individual issues stand up on their own very well, again providing relief from the unfortunate norm in comics publishing. The art is overall very good, with Donaldson setting the tone in the first three issues with most of the rest of the series drawn in a similar and satisfyingly gritty style by Brown. The colors by Dave Stewart are a major draw, as are the covers and backmatter pages, which have Wood’s very welcome design fingerprints all over them. 
If there’s a flaw to the series, it would be the deliberate pacing. A fascinating premise and characters like this cry out for stories that are ambitiously broad and that just plain move a bit faster. The Massive is a bit of a slow burn so far, but it’s a consistently fascinating and satisfying one that I look forward to seeing build itself up into an even better series over time.

Star Wars #1-3 tries hard to recreate late-1970s excitement

This is a good Star Wars comic book series, but not a great one.

Star Wars #1

The good parts of Star Wars #1-3 (Dark Horse, $2.99 each) are the intangibles: This is a comic set right after the very first movie (Episode IV, not Episode I) and therefore carries none of the weighty baggage the franchise began to carry with the complications of The Empire Strikes Back. It evokes the most simple pleasures of the series, back when Star Wars was just a super-cool, exciting movie and not a mythology or a franchise. For folks like me, who were kids in the summer of 1977 completely enthralled by the movie, that’s pretty powerful stuff. The covers by Alex Ross, the simple cover logo all evoke that simpler time and pure childhood love of Star Wars.

As for the insides, it’s pretty good, but I have some quibbles. Brian Wood overall has done a good job extrapolating events from Episode IV, and his focus on Princess Leia is very welcome indeed. But there are some areas where it falls short of the excitement a Star Wars title like this promises. A lot of it comes in the characterizations of the main characters: Luke, Leia and and Darth Vader. I’ll start with Vader, who Wood writes as embarrassed by the defeat at Yavin. Palpatine punishes Vader in his own special Sith way, handing control of Vader’s command vessel to another officer. These issues show a certain amount of political jockeying at the higher levels of the Empire, and that Vader is not very adept at it. (At least not yet — we’re only three issues in). Episode IV and V showed Vader as being so good at being bad that it’s scary. And seeing him mope about the Emperor taking away his keys to the family car is out of line with that.

Star Wars #2

Looking at Luke, Wood has him having grown up rather quickly. Episode IV showed him to be a promisingly gifted pilot albeit still naive, cocky and hotheaded about a lot of things. Here, he’s flirting with another female pilot and declared one of the top pilots in the Rebel Alliance. That may be true, but I don’t think anyone goes from day-dreaming teenager to some one so self-assured so quickly. That maturation is at the heart of Luke’s arc as a character throughout the trilogy.

And, lastly, Leia. It’s always nice to see the girls front and center in Star Wars, because there’s so few of them in the movies and, I think, so much demand from the legions of female Star Wars fans for more. I liked Wood showing Leia mourning the loss of Alderaan, but take issue with portraying her as a kick-ass pilot and ruthless soldier capable of killing an Imperial pilot with a point-blank laser blast as she does in the first issue. I always thought Leia’s strengths were more in her leadership abilities, her intelligence and a compassion that compelled her to act. In the original trilogy, we never see Leia fly anything except the speeder bike in Return of the Jedi. She completely sat out the battle of Yavin itself, and it makes no sense to ground so talented a pilot in such a last-ditch effort to save the base.

Star Wars #3

Those issues aside, the book is attractive, slick and entertaining to read. The art is by Carlos D’Anda, who delivers a clean and clear look for the series with a modern comics art style. It’s a bit cartoony in some cases for my taste, and I wish Han Solo looked his age here, but as someone who really digs the radical approach Carmine Infantino brought to Star Wars comics in the late 1970s, I can handle it and maybe it’ll grow on me. The Alex Ross covers are a huge selling point, though I can’t help but think the first three were a bit busy with their collage style — the more I look at them the more I have to think about what I’m looking at and the more I wonder what’s going on.

With Lucasfilm now part of the Disney machinery and Dark Horse’s Star Wars license widely expected to be living on borrowed time, I hope Wood and D’Anda have enough time with this series to really ramp up the excitement and deliver some Star Wars comics that add a chapter worthy of the name.

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